brothercyst: Treatise by Noah Cicero

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Treatise by Noah Cicero

I've written a few words about Treatise already. Here are some more: It's great.

Treatise is Noah Cicero's book about an upper-middle-class guy who hates his family and decides to "drop a class"--become a factory worker without health insurance, live among the poorest people in his community, which is the city of Youngstown, Ohio. Now, from what I understand both from conversations with him in real life and from the way Treatise is written and from Burning Babies, his amazing autobiographical novel, Noah is not from the upper-middle-class. He's from the poor, broke class. Because of this, it's strange and kind of electric to read his first-person narrative about a character who is--it's like Kafka's Amerika--a book about America by someone who'd never been there. A lot of the details seem a little, well, not inaccurate but somehow slightly off.

This is surprisingly effective, though--it makes the milieu seem weirdly new and unfamiliar, so you're constantly aware that what you're reading is not just reportage (some of it is) but a product of Noah's intense imagination, something that was just poured onto the page without filter or adulteration. (Bizarrely, adding to sense of unreality is the fact that all these characters in middle America have been given Russian names. [The book, Noah says, is a "remix of Chekhov's My Life."] Names like Misail, Dr. Blagovo, Dolzhikov, Oksana...what the fuck? I loved this. A bold, strange thing to do.) It's like hearing Noah's thoughts and seeing directly into his mind. And paradoxically that makes it feel more authentic and vital. The effect is that of a heightened reality that lends itself more strongly (than, say, Tom Wolfeian journo-fiction) to the conveyance of Noah's themes and ideas. And it feels more like an unmistakably original voice, un-fucked-with. At the same time, the scenes that take place in shitty factories and apartments and a ghetto pizza parlor feel more "realistic" than the upper-middle-class family scenes, more gritty. These are great scenes, too. The characters are excellent, mercilessly written.

Just a side note--the book I read right before Treatise was Salman Rushdie's Fury, which is also, to a degree, about class and commerce in America. I liked Treatise about one billion times better than Fury.

Noah doesn't write like other young writers I know. We type stuff up and take a long time editing it, proofreading and shit, and then we think about how we can sell it for good money if possible (even if in reality that's often not possible). Noah just writes up his shit, maybe looks at it once or twice, then posts it on a website or sends it to, that print-on-demand outfit. I don't think he really does any editing, or at least he didn't on Treatise. Structurally the book is fine--doesn't need any editing at all--but it's full of typos. The first time I ever heard of Noah was when Tao Lin and I were having dinner one night maybe a little over a year ago and he gave me a copy of Burning Babies and said, "Look at this galley." I opened it, read one paragraph, and said, "This guy doesn't even know how to use a comma, why the fuck are you giving me this?" He said, "He does know...just give it a chance." I ended up reading it and it was fucking great. And full of typos. It didn't matter. At a certain point he just wins you over.

While reading Treatise, I bent the corners of pages where there were great passages. At a certain point, I was turning down the corner of every single page. Let me just conclude this by opening randomly to a few of those bent pages and posting some good moments. Everything is sic.


About his boss, Dolzhikov:
...he had only one ambition and that was to do better than his brother, with the belief that one day if he accomplished enough, his parents would love him, and perhaps murder his brother viciously with an axe in the backyard, that was one of his fantasies that he would have when he was drunk.

New at being poor:
I used to shop at the thrift store in high school to look cool. But when I went there [now], it wasn't to look cool; I needed pants or a shirt to work in. While I was there alone, not with my other cool friends, I noticed there were other people like me, mostly poor single mothers with little children looking for school clothes, older black men with hard faces looking for shirts, young white men buying work pants. It wasn't so cool.

A friend at the pool hall:
He drove a car with blinking lights on it; he called them "Parking Ornaments." Radish would make fun of him constantly, asking him, "So how is your Christmas Tree running?" Everyone would laugh, then Fyodor would notify Radish that his mother was a whore.

When his sister asks him to help her get an abortion:
I considered for a second asking her if she was sure about this, but then I didn't care. The fact that she interrupted me peacefully laying on the couch reading and forcing me to let her move in made me want to make sure she didn't reproduce and create any more people that would infringe on me relaxing.